Travel’s Lessons – Joys and Shadows
The effects of traumatic events last much longer than the headlines
Travel is the greatest educator, inspirer and leveller. There is nothing I have experienced in my fifty years on planet Earth that has given me so much in such little time.
Travel is like a bag of Pick and Mix sweets that someone might select for you; so many different varieties from the melty fudge candy and sweet marshmallow to the dreaded coffee-centred chocolate and chewy toffee crunch that threatens to break your teeth.
After a year of magnificent travel experiences which gifted us exploration in five new European countries, our wanderlust has been satisfied beyond expectation. From the far west of Portugal’s beautiful beaches that caressed our faces with salty breezes, to the charm of Denmark’s surprising hidden depths. Sweden’s sumptuous authentic character had us engaged in a love affair of extreme passion and Norway’s majestic masterpiece blew our tiny little minds. And what of Czechia with its plethora of castles and softly curvaceous landscape?
Amongst our exploratory joys, we have hit travel walls, suffered from blogging burn out and harboured physical injuries. We have navigated a return to UK from Europe’s most northerly junction for a family funeral and had battles with tennants who are not paying their rent. I say this not out of any need for sympathy, just by way of offering a balanced perspective of this life on the road, seen as the dream and yet just the glorious mixture that is life.
And in this mixture of all sorts, we’ve learnt to travel to please ourselves, to rest when we need it and to increasingly find our stillness within a life dominated by movement. We have become aware of travel’s infectious magnetism that fuels our desires and entices us to do more. Yet we are more mindful of heeding our inner-selves’ need for reflection and stillness rather than feeding our insatiable and needy egos.
In ego’s midst, our hunger paled into insignificance this week, as travel revealed its true face beyond the mask of pretty vistas and cascading waterfalls. A humbling lesson that teaches us about life – beyond the dream of ticking one country off at a time. A peek into the shadows of reality – a perspective of people’s lives that may pique the interest of the world’s media for a nanosecond then fades into global obscurity. A glimpse into real life, one breath at a time.
On 24t August 2016, a small village in Lazio, Italy became the epicentre for a 6.2 magnitude earthquake; tectonic plates rubbing together in a frenzied attack beneath the surface of the earth. Amatrice surrendered to the full force of Mother Nature’s wrath and surrounding regions within a 50 mile radius suffered a matching fate. At 3.36am clocks stopped, cars halted and life was held in suspended animation as earth took over the reigns. Homes crumbled, around 300 lives were lost and 4000 people were made instantly homeless. Within a heart-beat the future fell apart from that moment in time. Italy was in mourning.
Communities rallied to rescue and salvage, whilst red zones warned of impending doom. Homes razed to the floor with rubble and exposed wires the only evidence of their postal address. Quintessential regions of Italy stripped of their identity in the blink of an eye.
And how cruel fate is, that just three months later, a second 6.5 magnitude quake shook the area with additional force, attempting to battle with the communities’ resolve; a secondary blow to assert domination over our fragile lives. This was the largest seismic event in over thirty years. Oct 30th 2016, we felt the ripples of the 6.40am earth rumblings 100 miles west on the Tuscany coast, above Rome. little did we know the story that preloaded this chapter in Italy’s fragile tale.
In some bizarre twist of fortune, no one died. Perversely, thanks to the impact of August’s quake, many people in vulnerable property had already been made homeless and saved from a more traumatic conclusion. Yet the impact of this second shake of Mother Nature’s dice had actually a more severe affect on the hope that still lingered from August. Whole villages devastated by the twin quake effect, communities looking like war zones and road links severed leaving farms and towns isolated from each other.
Our brush with this drama initiated when we felt the disconcerting rumbles in our camper. Everyone rushing out to seek answers to the mysterious movement of the earth. Even the Italians were bemused. And then the local news uncovered the truth about this massive giant beneath the earth that had made its presence felt.
It wasn’t until our fourth visit to Italy to meet up with friends affected by the quake themselves in the Marche region, just north of the epicentre, that the full picture became clear. Buildings shored up with struts and barriers. Homes impounded and still uninhabitable. Lives transgressed into flight and fight, a far cry from the luxurious destination of blissful happiness often promoted by the glossy magazines.
As our explorations took us around the beauty of the Sibillini National Park, our eyes were opened and hearts severely tugged at. We drove around villages south of the region that would have looked more at home in a war zone than the stunning countryside of Italy’s Apennine beauty hotspot. This backbone mountain range is where we find our earth tremor answers and yet to look at them, you would struggle to see how history played out.
Yet the villages soon made up for the gaps in the story. Our path constantly affected by road closures even now, three years on. Houses that look like a giant has ripped off their walls in a fit of spite, demolished walls looking like an archeological dig and restaurant signs indicating how life used to be.
On our journey painted with frustration, as one road closure after another diverted our route, irritation washing our egos, we drove to our home for the night. An idyllic spot in the foothills of Monte Vittore surrounded by a kaleidoscope of autumnal colours. Yet the stark reality was to reveal in the morning light as I visited Pretare, one of the devastated villages. To wander around this once thriving community, now just a ghost town, was sobering. A wreath still in place honouring the Great War paradoxically made me think about the battle with nature that we all face in different ways. Why oh why we battle against each other when there is tragedy enough from the natural world is beyond me.
I spoke to a lady with the help of my friend Google, who hadn’t been evacuated from her home. She was the only resident left in this ghost town. So whilst on the one hand may be you could class her as lucky; the reality is that she lives life in isolation, without a community and with the suspense of what another tremor might do to her home. The gentle smile on her traumatised face did not hide her sadness that her village would never be rebuilt – there was a strange acceptance to her fate.
Homes here show how that earthquake moment must have struck, as precarious ceiling beams, becoming balancing acts for chairs, suitcases and personal possessions. All left behind in the salvation for life. Cupboards torn apart from their walls revealing crockery and bathroom taps still sitting on tiled splashbacks as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
In our gallery below, I have chosen to distort the pictures out of respect for those whose homes I have captured.
And yet, something incredible has been born from the tragic events of 2016. Evidence of how communities have rallied to support their people. New homes have been built for the locals, once homeless, now safe. Identical prefab-style bungalows in small estates offer protection and hope. Wooden huts for businesses have been constructed to make sure livelihoods can continue and the needs of the locals still served. Tree-lined avenues and parks now holding makeshift sheds for Pizzerias and Post offices give a glimpse into the life that carries on, in spite of the rubble.
Animals were rescued by kind souls like our friends who, despite their red zone property, poured their energy into rescuing the vulnerable and keeping their B&B accommodation going. Communities are pulling together and are determined to promote that Le Marche is still very much open for business. They are ready to welcome lovers of nature, wilderness and spectacular mountain scenery. Le Marche is one of the most beautiful regions of Italy, that surpasses the iconic landscape of Tuscany. Yet it fights for its survival and preservation of dignity and history.
After our time spent exploring this magnificent region, with its historic landmarks, hilltop villages and mountain spectacle, we have been served up with a dose of humility. An important journey that has given us a glimpse into life on the edge. A life that, three years after the tragedy, the media is no longer interested in and yet people still struggle to survive, making the best of all that they have.
Check out our Gallery of how Le Marche looks, compelling visitors to come!
What a humbling experience travel revealed to us. A poignant reminder that life is fragile, often precarious and never static. Whilst a dream lifestyle travelling the world, may well look catwalk perfect, if you just open your heart to see beyond the facade, travel has an amazing story to reveal. And more importantly it will take you on a journey of more than miles, it takes you on a profound journey into yourself and will change you forever.
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